It had been some time, too long, since I'd seen either Mechanical Cabaret or Trademark live. The second Mechanical Cabaret album was launched tonight, with Trademark providing a sneak preview of material due on their second album due out later this year, and this being a Thursday evening directly before a long Bank Holiday weekend, I needed no further encouragement. A quick aside about the venue: Madame Jo Jo's can be found (literally) underground in the heart of Soho's sleaze quarter. With a long history mostly centering around it being a strip joint this was a great, cosy club split into three distinct zones: the upper bar area, the lounge level with sofas and comfy chairs, the balcony providing a great semicircular view of the stage ahead, and the mosh pit dance floor below. Tonight was part of a Glitz club night and I could easily see myself here again soon.
The irrepressible Trademark are just a joy to behold. This evening saw Stuart, Oliver and Paul playfully decked out in school blazers. Lead singer Oliver revealing that Stuart had left the band's suits in Birmingham, prompting a quick visit to Traid in London to pick up the second hand school outfits. A well-chosen and stylish choice I might say.
The short support slot in a club setting resulted in the band focusing understandably on a selection of their more up-tempo numbers. Two new songs (Come To Love and Over Again) opened the set and are decidedly more manic than most of their stuff to date. New song Stuck In A Rut's hookline somewhat disarmingly sounded very reminiscent of Lionel Richie's Dancing On The Ceiling! but was no less convincing for that. The hallucinogenic Super Mario Bros-like Interim (from the debut album) remains terrifically bonkers and sees Oliver running back and forth - almost a human imitation of the pixellated plumber.
If you include the instrumental intro (Riding the Scree), they managed to squeeze in eight tracks into their short set. That's a lot of delivery in such a short amount of time and they never compromise on quality. I could watch these guys perform for hours and, hopefully, it won't be too long before they're headlining more events doing just that.
Having played live unceasingly since their first appeared on the scene, Roi Robertson's Mechanical Cabaret have unquestionably put in the hours that fame and fortune rewards. Question is, will it be forthcoming for this sleazy three-piece, or will they be forever underground giving pleasure to a financially less salubrious but perhaps more dedicated and appreciative fanbase? This was essentially a warm-up performance ahead of an imminent European tour and a chance to iron out any imperfections in the new album material. What we heard of the new songs consolidates the existing MC sound but thankfully also demonstrates progression.
Blank Canvas is the perfect marriage of John Foxx's 20th Century on double speed crashing headlong into early Fad Gadget. Lyrically this is Roi on top form and true to form. The Gadget connection has always been present in Mechanical Cabaret and the long established live favourite cover of I Discover Love comes across well (and also makes in onto the new album). New song Disbehave also stood out in the set.
The most striking observation for me was one of presentation and personality. Now, Roi is an undisputed star. No longer uncomfortable about stealing the limelight from members Tobi and Bruce who seem content providing reliable backing whilst Roi does his pop star thing down the front; which includes a song-by-song, layer-by-layer strip to bare stomach. A literal manifestation of Roi's unabashed, sometimes uncomfortably honest songwriting that lays bare remnants of teenage angst and insecurities.
Their upcoming support slot to the Mesh European tour taking in Germany, Austria and Switzerland should firmly place Mechanical Cabaret in front of wider, nonpartisan crowds. It will be interesting to watch the effect that has on their future. In the meantime, if you live in the UK then you've little excuse not to have taken a ride with these three lowlife glamour merchants.